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Newly-published results of a large-scale trial found Wegovy, one of the brand names of the controversial weight loss drug semaglutide, appears to have substantial heart health benefits — findings that could finally convince insurers to begin covering the injectable medication.
In a press release, Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk asserted that the 2.4 mg dose of semaglutide — which differentiates Wegovy from Ozempic, its popular-yet-notorious 1 mg semaglutide counterpart that’s become a household name for its weight loss effects — is associated with lowered risk of major adverse cardiovascular events in people over the age of 45 with higher body mass index (BMI) readings but no history of diabetes.
Specifically, it slashed the risk of heart attacks by 20 percent, the double-blind trial found. It also, of course, assisted in weight loss among those given the active drug instead of the placebo to lose weight.
The late-stage trial named SELECT began in 2018 and enrolled more than 17,000 people across six continents. While it’s not the first to look into semaglutide’s cardiovascular health benefits, its timing couldn’t be better. The drug’s popularity has soared even as insurers continue refusing to cover the $1,300-per-month medication for anything but diabetes — and some of those patients have seen their claims denied, too.
In an interview with the Financial Times, BMO Capital Markets analyst Evan Seigerman argued that the findings of this landmark trial would make it “unethical” for insurers to continue refusing to cover semaglutide drugs, which include the brand names Wegovy, Ozempic, and Moujnaro.
The good news comes with caveats: SELECT trial’s findings have yet to be peer-reviewed, and Novo Nordisk has only published the-top line summary of its findings. And concerns remain about some of the adverse health effects of semaglutide, and its problematic adoption by the problematic weight loss industry writ large.
Just a few weeks ago, CNN reported that doctors have increasingly seen patients who developed gastroparesis, a debilitating condition in which one’s stomach becomes paralyzed, after they took injectable semaglutide.
Even without that extreme side effect, one of the scientists who pioneered the drug warned that its main mechanism, which suppresses appetite by mimicking the gut hormones released upon eating to fullness, can also straight up remove the pleasure of food.
“What happens is that you lose your appetite and also the pleasure of eating, and so I think there’s a price to be paid when you do that,” Danish biomedical researcher Jens Juul Holst, a University of Copenhagen professor whose work led to the creation of semaglutide’s predecessor, told Wired earlier this year. “If you like food, then that pleasure is gone. The craving for food for some people is taken away.”
Holst insisted that people often don’t stay on drugs like Wegovy and Ozempic because it takes away food pleasure, which could, in theory, effect the continued use of semaglutide for its heart health benefits, too.
Like the classic Billy Ray Cyrus meme, there’s plenty more to consider regarding Wegovy than its manufacturers and proponents are letting on — but then again, anything that gets Big Pharma out from under the plausible deniability of not being able to cover patients? For anyone who doesn’t work in Big Pharma: A straight-up win, caveats and all.
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